A great deal is riding on whether President Bush can muster the will to denounce the man he has regarded as an ally in the war on terrorism. Some will argue, and Bush may feel, that Putin is “with us.” But now Bush needs to make a different calculation. Putin is not really “with us.” With Russians confronting vicious terrorists, Putin is consolidating his own power. How, exactly, does that help us win the war on terrorism?
Tough words. Of course, they would carry more impact if he hadn’t also written this:
The president’s commitment to democracy has been derided by realist foreign policy thinkers as dangerously idealistic. Even Democrats, who used to believe in promoting democracy, have regarded Bush’s efforts with cynicism and hostility. Bush, to his credit, has persevered.
Really. Well, that certainly explains the efforts that his administration has made to support democracy in the central Asian republics and in the Middle East. The right already has its memorial for Bush written: He tried too hard to make democracy work. What they seem unwilling to face is that Bush’s treatment of Putin is the rule, not the exception, and that for all his commitment to democracy and willingness to use American power, fewer people live under democracy now than they did in 2001. We need to dispose of the fantasy that Bush or his administration care much about democracy. That way, we won’t be suprised by the non-response to Putin.
Don’t doubt that Putin’s actions yesterday represent a critical moment for Russia, and by extension the world. Russia under Putin has drifted toward authoritarianism for several years, and now it has decided to leap. Putin’s actions seem quite popular with the state apparatus and with the population as a whole. As far as I can tell, Russia is finished as a democracy. One more candidate for the tag “Greatest Failure of the Bush Administration”.